The Zen of the Bare Branch

Winter is almost over here in Arizona, at least below the Mogollon Rim.  All around us, plants are in bloom and pollen is in the air.  Trees are beginning to leaf out, and soon they will be green and the ground will be brown and parched–the way nature intended here in the desert.

But before all the trees become covered with their canopy of green, let me pay homage to the simple beauty of the bare branch.  When we were visiting Montezuma Castle two weeks ago, I was struck by the beauty of the stark white sycamore and ash trees against the azure blue sky, as seen in this single exposure processed in Paintshop Pro X3:

The white branches blended so beautifully with the chalky white limestone cliffs where the Native Americans built their cliff dwellings.  The trunks of the sycamore trees have the most gorgeous bark–it looks like a jigsaw puzzle of various shades of olive, tan, beige, pistachio, khaki, especially when processed as an HDR image from three bracketed exposures:

When we drove into Sedona later that afternoon, I spent a lot of time shooting pictures of the red rocks aglow in the light of the setting sun.  But as the sun was just about to slip below the horizon, I turned to face it and captured this shot of the bare branches of the oak trees:

It was such a lovely, peaceful silhouette that I did very little processing of the raw file.

Nature can be beautiful even when dormant and while hibernating.  It reminds us that we all need time to rest and recuperate so that we can bloom afresh and anew in the spring.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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Montezuma Castle Up Close and Personal

I finally got a chance to start processing some of the photos from this past weekend, and I started with the ones of Montezuma Castle.  For those who are unfamiliar with this National Monument (operated by the National Park Service), Montezuma Castle is a well-preserved cliff dwelling that was constructed by the Sanagua people around 700 A.D.  It was occupied until around 1425 A.D.  It’s a five-story, 20-room brick and mortar structure that housed around 50 people.  When European Americans discovered the site in the 1860s, they named it for the Aztec emperor of Mexico Montezuma II, due to mistaken beliefs that the emperor had been connected to its construction.

Me and Andy, with the help of a self-timer

I decided to do all my shots in bracketed series of three (-2.0 / 0 / +2.0).  Fortunately, the Park Service allows you to use a tripod, so it wasn’t at all difficult to setup for a nice series of shots from multiple angles.  I started out with my normal lens (18-55mm) to get some shots of the cliffside, but I quickly switched to my telephoto lens to get some close-ups of the details of the structure.

Shot with 200mm zoom

I’ve started processing the shots as HDR’s using Photomatix and Paintshop Pro X3.  I had already done one this past weekend (see my last post), and I’ve done four more tonight.  They are uploaded to my Flickr site in the set titled “Montezuma Castle“.  I’ll be adding more to the set later this week, but I’m satisfied with what I’ve seen so far.  I even have some decent shots from my old 125-300mm zoom (non-autofocus), so I’m anxious to get them all out there.

If you’ve never visited Montezuma Castle National Monument, I highly recommend it.  The entry fee is $5, and it’s easily accessible to people of all ages and physical conditions.  Right now the trees are mostly bare, but I’ve also been there during the summertime when the trees are in full leaf, and it makes a beautiful contrast of color against the white cliffs and the blue sky.  I do want to go back in the fall when the leaves are in their fall color!

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Arizona Spring Break Adventure

Ok, it’s late, I’m tired, and I’m ready to get some sleep.  Andy and I have been exploring all day, driving north from Phoenix with stops in Black Canyon City, Cordes Junction (to check in at Arcosanti), Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde, and Sedona.  I have about 255 photos from today that I’ve offloaded from my camera to my laptop, and I’ll be ready to start shooting again in the morning as soon as my battery is charged (both the camera battery and my physical one).

However, I couldn’t resist cranking out one HDR just to see how it looked.  This is a shot of Montezuma Castle.  It was a beautiful spring day with bright blue skies.  The trees are still mostly bare, but I love the way the white bark of the sycamores echo the white of the stone in the cliffside.

This is one of my favorite sites to visit in Arizona.  I can’t imagine living in that day and age, in that lifestyle…having to carry everything up the cliff face via a series of wooden ladders.  I wonder how many little kids accidentally took a tumble from up there when they weren’t watching what they were doing?  I just can’t imagine how they even came up with the IDEA of living in the cliff face.

I’m sure I’ll be processing photos from today for the next several weeks, not to mention the additional ones I anticipate getting tomorrow from here at Arcosanti.  We’re having a great time being “tourists” in our great State!!